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International law should rule cyberspace, Attorney General will say

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UK Attorney General Suella Braverman will use a speech at the Chatham House think tank to lay out the government’s position on the application of the law in the digital space.

Cyberspace should be ruled by international law, according to the Attorney General. 

Suelle Braverman is expected to use her appearance at the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank to set out the UK’s position on cyber security and international law. She will describe the importance of using international law to help inform decisions on what constitutes unlawful action in the digital space. 

Braverman's speech will take place against the backdrop of the global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the accusations of state-sanctioned cyber attacks related to the conflict. The Attorney General is expected to use this opportunity to highlight how a united international approach to the issue would help establish and shape a framework to respond adequately to these occurrences. 

“The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated, on the part of Russia, a callous disregard for established international rules,” she will say. “However, the unprecedented and united international response in support of Ukraine has also reinforced the value of having a framework that makes clear when state action is unlawful."

The Attorney General is also expected to speak about the increase cyber threats that taken place as a result of the Russian invasion and the Covid-19 pandemic, with 40 per cent of businesses having suffered a cyber attack in the last 12 months. She will describe the current perception of cyberspace as “a new battlespace where no rules apply". 

“But cyberspace is not a lawless ‘grey zone’. International law governs and plays a fundamental role in regulating cyberspace,” she will add. 

The Attorney General will highlight the need for “leadership and partnerships” between the UK and its partners to shape and strengthen international cyber governance, with the aim of promoting a “free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace”.

Braverman is expected to reinforce the government’s position, which states that the international principle of non-intervention – that every state has the right to sovereignty and territorial and political independence – should also be the approach in cyberspace, and that breaching these rules would give nations the right to retaliate. Her stance builds on one first made by the government in 2018.

“The UK’s position is that the rule on non-intervention provides a clearly established basis in international law for assessing the legality of state conduct in cyberspace during peacetime,” she will say.

“It is therefore important to bring the non-intervention rule to life in the cyber context, through examples of what kinds of cyber behaviours could be unlawful in peacetime."

By having a clear framework of what constitutes lawful and unlawful behaviours in cyberspace, states will have a more clear understanding of the range of potential options that can lawfully be taken in response to a cyber threat, and be considered proportionate responses to prior illegality by another state, she will explain. 

“This is crucial in enabling states to act within the law whilst taking robust and decisive action,” she will say. 

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